On The Ground
Five years ago, my wife bought me a compound bow for my birthday. It came with basic equipment and six arrows. I lost all six in the first 30 minutes of shooting, but I was hooked. I tagged my first buck with that bow from a tree stand that year. I went to my brother’s ranch in West Texas two years ago for a Thanksgiving hunt, expecting to get a deer on the ground with the same techniques I have used in the trees. I found out quickly that the terrain in West Texas is very rough. The ground is mostly rock with lots of low trees. Various oaks, Pinion pine and mesquite litter the countryside with Spanish cedar filling in the holes. His property is an undulation of ridge tops and valleys that converge into a long canyon. From above, it looks like a giant hand was pressed into the earth. I hunted the low lands for the first couple of days then moved to the ridge tops. I think the wind on the high ridges gave me an advantage by covering up the sounds you inevitably make. But needless to say, I wasn’t successful. My brother and I went back at camp a month later. I really didn’t have time for another trip considering my workload but I wanted to get back in my ground blind on that ridge top. We set up camp and prepared quickly for the evening hunt. I am ready for the ridge, I told myself. I learned my lessons on the last trip. I brought a swivel bucket seat to sit on this time. In addition to my camo and ghillie suit, I found a fine mesh camo facemask that I could turn backwards and look through the lightest color of the camo. With this set-up, they can’t even see the whites of my eyes. I got in my ground blind about 3 p.m. The deer arrived an hour later. Because this was my last tag, I thought I was about to be done. It will be nice to sleep-in tomorrow morning. I estimated the yardage at 25 yards on a big matriarch doe. I later measured it at 18 yards. The arrow was high again and I watched it sail over her back. Saturday morning I arrived at the ridge an hour before daylight. The deer arrived shortly after. They browsed the area as the sunlight filled the valley in front of me. As the first glimmer of light shined over the mountains behind me, the birds started singing and the doves arrived. A doe walked within 15 yards, browsing with her big black eye facing me. She walked towards me and stopped less than 10 feet away. I could see her hot breath in the cold air. After several frozen minutes, she turned away, broadside. As I drew my bow, both doves exploded and the deer ran to my right. By the time she cleared the scrub, I was at full draw, rotated to the new shot and ready. She stood broadside at 15 yards, looking at me but not seeing me. As I lined up, I realized my suit was hung in the lower cam on the bow. I tried to unhang the yarn by letting my draw half way down and pulling the yarn out with a wiggle of my hip. By the time I made the initial movement to un-hang the suit, she was in the next county. I was chomping at the bit for the evening hunt. I arrived about 3p.m. ready to hunt. I set up archery targets and shot my bow at lunchtime to verify yardage on the ridge. I practiced and identified the pin for every potential shot. My suit was trimmed and positioned to stay out of my way. The deer arrived about 6pm, but it was too dark to shoot. I watched them for an hour in the moonlight. I swished a cedar limb in my tree and they quickly trotted off. I snuck out of the area quietly. Sunday morning on the ridge, every inch of my body was covered in camo. I rubbed busted cedar needles all over my clothes. I even threaded fresh cedar twigs onto my bow limb to break up my silhouette. I climbed in the ground blind an hour and a half before daylight to sit on my swivel camo bucket. The deer had arrived before daylight and browsed the area for a half-hour. I waited until I had good light. I held my bow in front of me to obscure my silhouette. A spike buck stood broadside at 20 yards. I was sure he could see my heart pounding through my suit. Swiveling slightly, I drew behind the bow. He walked to within 10 yards and stood broadside. I waited for an hour while the adrenaline drained out of my body before following him into the valley. He made it about 300 yards down the side slope to a main survey road with one lung. It was a long track, but I found him relatively easily. My ground hunt was finally successful. The attention to detail paid off and I got closer to a deer than I ever had before. I learned a lot about the West Texas terrain and the always-elusive whitetail deer. It doesn’t get any more exciting than that.